Opinion: Vote-suppression efforts don’t reflect well on today’s Ga.

Dominion CEO addresses conspiracies, defamation suits in Georgia elections board meeting
Dominion CEO addresses conspiracies, defamation suits in Georgia elections board meeting

A new Georgia is rising and the old Georgia is rearing its ugly head.

In response to robust voter turnout in the 2020 elections, especially among Black voters, Republicans in the statehouse are saying “Not so fast.” They are trying to rush a shameful bill to restrict voting and limit voter participation through the legislature with little notice and little time for the public to respond. They are specifically targeting Black voters.

HB 531, as initially drafted, would have made it illegal to hold early voting on Sundays. A key House committee struck that provision a few days ago. Is there any legitimate public policy reason to ban early voting on Sundays? Of course not. That provision takes direct aim at Black churches’ traditional “souls to the polls” voter mobilization efforts.

Rev. Timothy McDonald III
Rev. Timothy McDonald III

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

When North Carolina’s Republicans passed a similar law a few years ago, a federal court ruled that the state’s move to shut down Sunday voting because counties that used it were disproportionately Black was “as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times” that the law was aimed at disenfranchising Black voters.

HB 531 would also shrink the period in which voters could request absentee ballots and limit the time that counties could send ballots out. It would impose new ID requirements for absentee ballots. Another section targets mobile voting facilities, targeting Fulton County’s efforts to make voting more accessible with the use of voting buses.

Ben Jealous
Ben Jealous

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The bill’s restrictions on early voting would make it harder for people who don’t have the flexibility to leave work to vote, and it would fall harder on heavily populated metro areas than on rural areas with much smaller numbers of voters.

The bill descends into cruelty by banning people from giving food or water to voters waiting in long lines at polling places. Think of it as the criminalization of kindness. And just one more shameful way to discourage people from voting.

This bill was dropped on Georgians as a last-minute surprise. But these provisions didn’t come out of nowhere. There is a nationwide push by right-wing organizations responding to the defeat of Donald Trump by urging Republican legislators to impose new voting restrictions. It is part of a long-term strategy for the shrinking Republican Party and its white conservative base to hang on to power as a new multiracial, multiethnic majority is emerging.

Public officials should welcome energetic civic participation. But Republicans in the statehouse were not happy with the results of the last election, so they are returning to a tried-and-true method to hang on to power. They are simply trying to make it harder for people to turn out the next time.

That tells us all we need to know about their commitment to democracy.

It tells us that they are willing to resist the emergence of a Georgia that reflects the values of John Lewis by resorting to the shameful tactics of Jim Crow.

Rev. Timothy McDonald III is senor pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ben Jealous is president of People For the American Way.

In Other News